Does Art Really Talk Across Borders?

Danube Cultural Identity – THINKtent

by Natasha Cica

The 2014 Danube Dialogues featured my THINKtent project – a 5 x 5 metre canvas belltent in which I host hour-long conversations featuring an expert on a designated topic, with around fifteen participants. Smartphones and similar devices are unwelcome, to encourage conversation away from the distractions of email and social media. In each location THINKtent appears, the interior is curated to reflect distinctive qualities of a specific place and its people. In Serbia, the interior was created by Belgrade interior architects Milivoje and Miroslav Stojanović of PROTOTYPE, and the result was a unique blend of old and new, dark and light, East and West. This THINKtent also featured a special edition scent called Ко те шљиви? (Who plums you?) by emerging perfumier Nataša Bakić of Mandragora, powered by frankincense and Bosnian lilac.

My motivation for THINKtent comes from an impression that more and more people today – especially young people – are not truly intellectually stretched, culturally enriched, aesthetically inspired nor spiritually uplifted by most of their encounters in places of formal learning.  Including (and especially?) in contemporary universities.  I established THINKtent to foster stimulating dialogue, playful exchange and unexpected provocations – not didactic lectures or strict instruction. I designed THINKtent to be global and local, to tread lightly and float across borders.

THINKtent explored the question Danube Cultural Identity – Does Art Really Talk Across Borders?.  The tent welcomed curators, gallerists, visual artists, musicians and others aged from their early 20s to their 80s, from across the sweep of the Danube nations. We started with borders and what they seem to prevent, the costs they add, the price we pay.  ‘Border is a hard word, but it’s a construction’ said a young man from Novi Sad. ‘In the 1990s, it was only the artistic perspective – across borders – that helped us understand what was happening in Serbia,’ said another, slightly older participant. ‘It’s like living in one apartment, you know where everything is, you forget to question yourself – but when you visit another apartment, you see a different arrangement, and with visual arts you don’t need a language,’ said a woman from the same city. The tent opened stories of smuggling art (in suitcases, across those borders), degraded cultural and intellectual elites (‘at gallery openings, people just turn up to be seen’; ‘we have lost a critical mass of people with a sophisticated understanding of literature and culture’), Maslow-style hierarchies of needs (for employment, health care, education, what kind of survival?), the promise and problems of the EU, cultural diplomacy, chaos, colour, awakenings, joy, freedom, humanity, security (‘maybe people don’t think about existential questions in wealthier, easier places because they have enough of everything’) and more.  THINKtent welcomed the ghosts of Fellini, Schumann and Bartok – while we eavesdropped on Schoenberg and Kandinsky debating the condition of yellow as ‘screaming in sound’.  We learned the fabulous term fachidiot.  And we were left with a parting gift from the late Mira Birtka  – my great friend, whose generosity made this THINKtent possible, and who died several months after this performance: ‘I worked in Rome in the 1960s and 1970s, it was so easy to connect with important people, it was a different atmosphere.  I don’t know if it can be like it was before. Today there is some lie, some invention in the air.  Now in the time of the internet, can we find different ways of connecting people?

Maybe this THINKtent is one of the ways, so people can make direct contact.   To speak about small problems, not only money, but why we work as artists … We are too much tied to money, we should not start with money … Maybe by speaking together we can find a more correct, good way. With this direct contact, I feel what I am doing is not a waste.’

Dr Natasha Cica is the director of and an honorary professor at the Australian National University.

See more about THINKtent at

28 AVG
Fine Art Gallery of Rajko Mamuzić Gift Collection, Vase stajića 1


Posted on

September 4, 2014